The simplest way to examine the advantages and disadvantages of RISC architecture is by contrasting it with it's predecessor: CISC (Complex

Instruction Set Computers) architecture. Multiplying Two Numbers in Memory On the right is a diagram representing the storage scheme for a generic computer. The main memory is divided into locations numbered from (row) 1: (column) 1 to (row) 6: (column) 4. The execution unit is responsible for carrying out all computations. However, the execution unit can only operate on data that has been loaded into one of the six registers (A, B, C, D, E, or F). Let's say we want to find the product of two numbers - one stored in location 2:3 and another stored in location 5:2 - and then store the product back in the location 2:3.

Because each instruction requires only one clock cycle to execute. These RISC "reduced instructions" require less transistors of hardware space than the complex instructions. "PROD. In order to perform the exact series of steps described in the CISC approach. if we let "a" represent the value of 2:3 and "b" represent the value of 5:2. very little RAM is required to store instructions. the RISC strategy also brings some very important advantages. pipelining is possible." It operates directly on the computer's memory banks and does not require the programmer to explicitly call any loading or storing functions. The RISC Approach RISC processors only use simple instructions that can be executed within one clock cycle. For instance.e. one clock). the "MULT" command described above could be divided into three separate commands: "LOAD. this may seem like a much less efficient way of completing the operation. a CISC processor would come prepared with a specific instruction (we'll call it "MULT"). The compiler must also perform more work to convert a high-level language statement into code of this form." One of the primary advantages of this system is that the compiler has to do very little work to translate a high-level language statement into assembly. then this command is identical to the C statement "a = a * b." which finds the product of two operands located within the registers. the entire program will execute in approximately the same amount of time as the multi-cycle "MULT" command. It closely resembles a command in a higher level language. Thus. 5:2 PROD A." which moves data from a register to the memory banks. 5:2 MULT is what is known as a "complex instruction. Because the length of the code is relatively short. and then stores the product in the appropriate register. a programmer would need to code four lines of assembly: LOAD A. Thus.The CISC Approach The primary goal of CISC architecture is to complete a task in as few lines of assembly as possible. For this particular task. and "STORE. When executed. Because all of the instructions execute in a uniform amount of time (i. leaving more room for general purpose registers. multiplies the operands in the execution unit. . this instruction loads the two values into separate registers. 2:3 LOAD B." which moves data from the memory bank to a register. However. Because there are more lines of code. The emphasis is put on building complex instructions directly into the hardware. B STORE 2:3. the entire task of multiplying two numbers can be completed with one instruction: MULT 2:3. This is achieved by building processor hardware that is capable of understanding and executing a series of operations. more RAM is needed to store the assembly level instructions. A At first.

If one of the operands needs to be used for another computation. In RISC. RISC does the opposite. Although Apple's Power Macintosh line featured RISC-based chips and Windows NT was RISC compatible. Intel had the resources to plow through development and produce powerful processors. RISC chips took over a decade to gain a foothold in the commercial world. Without commercial interest. The Performance Equation The following equation is commonly used for expressing a computer's performance ability: The CISC approach attempts to minimize the number of instructions per program. 1MB of DRAM cost about $5.000. This is primarily due to advancements in other areas of computer technology.1 and Windows 95 were designed with CISC processors in mind. Although their CISC chips were becoming increasingly unwieldy and difficult to develop. This was largely due to a lack of software support. reducing the cycles per instruction at the cost of the number of instructions per program. sacrificing the number of cycles per instruction.Separating the "LOAD" and "STORE" instructions actually reduces the amount of work that the computer must perform. Compiler technology has also become more sophisticated. so that the RISC use of RAM and emphasis on software has become ideal. the operand will remain in the register until another value is loaded in its place. processor developers were unable to manufacture RISC chips in large enough volumes to make their price competitive. the Intel x86 is arguable the only chip which retains CISC architecture. The Overall RISC Advantage Today. Windows 3. the differences were not great enough to persuade buyers to change technologies. RISC Roadblocks Despite the advantages of RISC based processing. Although RISC chips might surpass Intel's efforts in specific areas. Many companies were unwilling to take a chance with the emerging RISC technology. Another major setback was the presence of Intel. In 1977. the processor automatically erases the registers. After a CISC-style "MULT" command is executed. . the processor must re-load the data from the memory bank into a register. The price of RAM has decreased dramatically. the same amount of memory cost only $6 (when adjusted for inflation). By 1994.

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